Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
Last year’s Marvel’s Avengers was a well-crafted game – but one of the most divisive of the modern era as well. Those expecting an epic tale were left disappointed, while those going into it expecting a fun popcorn game with high-end production values and a lot of Marvel fanservice were generally left satisfied by it. However, when comparing it to Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s clear that Square-Enix went in with the mindset of sticking with what worked about the core action of Avengers while improving upon the mechanics by focusing on minimizing the amount of playable characters while still keeping the well-known Guardians’ teamwork in play.
Star-Lord, Drax, Groot, Rocket, and Gamora are all featured prominently with a blend of comic and MCU sensibilities. The key to the franchise’s explosion has been a mix of not only music, but largely the chemistry that the cast has with one-another and how they all play off of Star-Lord. The structure in that regard is very much like the classic manga/anime Lupin III where every person in the cast uses Lupin as an anchor to play off of. Star-Lord plays that role here and fittingly, Gamora winds up being a bit like Goemon with his “living deus ex machina” nature thanks to swordplay that can slice and dice anything when needed for plot purposes.
The story told is an original one focusing on Star-Lord’s past, present, future and how they all intertwine. We start off with him as a young kid with his mother and get slice of life moments that absorb you into the world. It’s very much like the start of The Last of Us or for a tamer example, Uncharted 4 where being able to explore the home gives the player a sense of the character. Sifting through the in-game world is something that made the original Shenmue so special in 2000 and has allowed it to hold up well today, and going far beyond what was done with Avengers for slice of life content is smart.
There, it was fleeting, and while it worked to a degree, it didn’t suck players in. From the second you start the adventure, you get a feel for just who Peter Quill is and why he is so driven as a guardian. His painful past makes him want to build a better future for not only himself, but all of his friends and allies. As in life, the bonds are tested and some wind up broken and others frayed a bit – but his character remains the centerpiece of the drama and it works surprisingly well as a way to keep the player coming back.
The core combat feels very similar to Avengers, with a blend of short- and long-range combat mixed in with a lot of teamwork. The hand-to-hand fighting gives the game a small touch of a beat-em-up feel as you take out many generic goons, but it’s made fresher thanks to the gunplay and team-based mechanics that ensure big battles are won by the team and not an individual. The fisticuffs are a bit rudimentary, but the gunplay is fast and user-friendly. Unlike most games with a blend of short- and long-range combat, you have unlimited ammo and are always shooting when a trigger is pressed.
The big key to the combat in its most basic form is that the player can overheat the gun – but then reload with precise timing to land a super-powerful shot that will take some foes out instantly or just deal out a lot of environmental damage. This allows players to build up scrap and unlock costumes fairly quickly – but also offers up a satisfying boom both visually and audibly. The team-based combat comes into play with the left bumper and a face button for each character. In battle, they can take out foes quickly and in puzzle-solving sections, every problem can be solved by using at least one of their skills and sometimes one after the other. This makes puzzle-solving much easier than most games even without a robust hint system in play since there are only so many characters to choose from.
Drax is great at moving giant things around, while Rocket is the king of hacking. Gamora slices and dices, and Groot is fantastic for crossing large gaps or getting up high in a pinch. With that as the framework, the player is given a problem and the solution will logically come from one of their four special abilities or a bit of exploration combined with elemental attacks. Star-Lord’s ability to use elemental attacks makes some battles much easier, although death isn’t all that bad here – just sending players to the start of that battle and the difficulty can be adjusted in real-time as needed. It’s clear that a lot of care went into making this a user-friendly experience and having the ability to use allies helps take away from the non-stop action style that made Avengers’ combat grow a bit old in extended play sessions. Guardians mixes things up with space exploration sections that feel pretty natural, and look fantastic too.
Visually, Guardians of the Galaxy looks great on both the PS4 and PS5. It’s recommended that you start playing on a PS4 to then migrate the save to PS5 as the game doesn’t support full cross-platform saves yet. The PS4 version has a bit of detail loss compared to the PS5 when it comes to environmental textures, but still holds up with solid framerates in combat. The PS5 version is definitely better-looking, but the PS4 version is no slouch given that it’s on aging hardware. The PS5’s SSD is used for faster cutscene load times and Star-Lord’s teenage mullet flows more freely on the PS5 – but hair looks a bit wonky no matter what. Combat is fluid and framerate drops are minimal throughout both consoles – but do creep up in small ways like grabbing items, which can trigger some wonky animation as well.
Guardians delivers a kick-ass soundtrack and some fantastic voice acting as well. The licensed soundtrack includes “Turn Up the Radio” and other real-world touches take advantage of Marvel being owned by Disney – including Star-Lord having a Tron poster and his mother stepping on a Chewbacca figure. In a smart move, the in-universe band Star-Lard is used for musical substitutions for streaming purposes – which is a great way for players to enjoy the experience and either choose between the real-world OST or in-universe one. Either way the songs are fantastic and having a way to listen to the licensed tunes in-game is a nice touch. The sound effect work is fantastic as well, with hard hits offering up a satisfying oomph and blaster shots sounding different depending on not only the power of the blast, but also the element used for it.
As great as Marvel’s Avengers was, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy takes the framework of combat there and fine-tunes it. The inclusion of so many kinds of team-based attacks opens up the combat in new, interesting ways and the focus on character development goes a long way to creating a memorable cast of characters that have far more depth than one might expect for a superhero-themed game. It’s a great-looking game as well, with a few rough patches that will likely get resolved with some updates, and its killer soundtrack is best-in-class for a modern game. Not since GTA Vice City has a licensed soundtrack so perfectly accentuated an experience and being able to go back and forth between the licensed songs and the original soundtrack is a smart move. If you loved Marvel’s Avengers, then you will find more to enjoy here – while those who may have found that experience a bit lacking should find more to enjoy with this game’s better combat system and emphasis on character-building.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Square Enix
This review is based on a digital copy of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy for the PlayStation 5 provided by Square Enix.